The London to Brighton veteran car run

Video from the 1930s

In 1865 an act best known as the Red Flag Act was passed limiting the speed of self-propelled driving machines to 2mph (or a heady 4mph in the country). 

The Red Flag Act originally required a man to walk 60 yards ahead of the vehicle waving a red flag.

In 1896 the act was lifted, and to celebrate an Emancipation Run was organised in December running 54 miles from London to Brighton.

The quickest finish time turned out to be a Bollée taking just four hours, though most participants took at least six hours.

That first Emancipation Run took place at what might be seen as the birth of the modern motor car with car makers just starting to use internal combustion engines instead of steam ones.

Car speeds then shifted gear from 10mph to 70mph in a decade.

Today, the run is still going as strong as ever.

Only vehicles made before 1905 can enter, and the event is the world's greatest gathering together of veteran cars.

Some veteran motorcycles also take part.

The cars from this era are very different in looks as well as performance compared to modern automobiles, and even each other.

Some, like de Dion Bouton's 1900 vis-à-vis are completely open, and literally have a back seat driver with their passenger facing them.

De Dion Bouton Vis a Vis
De Dion Bouton Vis a Vis
(Click to enlarge)

Others like the Hurtu dos-à-dos resemble a horse-drawn carriage without the horse.

Bonhams have a selection of similar cars at auction today.

The event is not in any sense a race, with a scheduled stop for coffee and participants encouraged to take their foot off the pedal if they're regularly crossing the 20mph mark.

Naturally, with century old cars a bigger problem is often making them travel faster than 0mph, with repairs at the roadside not uncommon.

As a reward any driver passing the finishing post before 4.30pm is presented with a medal.

Stars and royalty have sometimes taken part, especially car enthusiast Prince Michael of Kent, who was President of the Institute of the Motor Industry until 1998, and recently put his leaving gift up for auction.

The Queen herself rode as a passenger in 1971, whilst Formula 1's Stirling Moss took part in 1968.

The event, expected to include an impressive 557 cars, will take place this Sunday, November 1 starting from Hyde Park at dawn (6.54am).

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